Playing my Widower Card

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

A dear friend of mine, who blogs under the name Supa Dupa Fresh, and I share a grim truth -- we've both lost our spouses. One of the other things we have in common is an off-beat sense of humor. These two forces collide on her Fresh Widow blog, and especially, with her Fresh Widow (and Widower) Cards. She explains:
One night in my support group, S. said casually that he’d “left work early… I just pulled a widower card.” I thought about how often I’d done this in the months since LH died, but more about how I could make good use of some little advantage. All the handicaps I was living with… single (really, double) parenting, how impossible it was to go grocery shopping with a toddler, and how no one could see that anything was wrong. The side of me that is tempted to shoplift (but only cashmere or chocolate) was aroused. I was always comfortable as an underachiever, but could I have some legitimate “cover” after surviving catastrophe? Something versatile? Something I could use every day? And so the concept was born: Not as useful as a “get out of jail free” card, more powerful than a hall pass… it’s… it’s… The Widow Card!


  1. I can see a whole series of these for different condtions.

    Because when my mother was dealing with cancer and I was taking care of her, we would joke when things wold get difficult about how we would occasionally “play the breast cancer card.”
    (Thankfully she is in remission and doing well.)

    I’m sure there is some overarching statement that could be made about our society and lack of consideration and empathy for other people who are dealing with illness and death.

    But I’m not the one to make it.

  2. I’m sure there is some overarching statement that could be made about our society and lack of consideration and empathy for other people who are dealing with illness and death.

    Maybe because a large percentage end up having to deal with some hardship or tragedy at some point, so it stops being special after a while.

    I’ve had several close family members unexpectedly dying from illness and accidents. But then most of my friends/co-workers also had situations with serious illness, stressful lay-offs, brutal divorces, etc…

    I just feel my own ‘card’ doesn’t have as much weight after I see that most people do suffer at some point in their lives. It makes us human, not unique.

    That said, it doesn’t me we shouldn’t be empathetic to each other’s trials.

  3. Amazing artist/performer Lisa Bufano
    occasionally must resort to playing
    “the amputee card”
    Frequently this as simple lifting her skirt enough to reveal that she did not scam her parking placard and indeed both her legs are composed of titanium and carbon fiber.

  4. @1: “Because when my mother was dealing with cancer and I was taking care of her, we would joke when things wold get difficult about how we would occasionally “play the breast cancer card.”
    (Thankfully she is in remission and doing well.) ”

    7 years of my life, man… my mom was usually the one to suggest using it (jokingly, she was incredibly strong and brave through the whole ordeal, even through the brain tumors). whenever anything came up at school, she’d tell me to tell the teachers my mom had cancer.

    i also desperately want to get these for my dad, but, seeing as i already have a stepmom, i feel they may be in bad taste. he is also not the man to ever show weakness (bad way to say it), but he wouldn’t ever use it as an excuse.. too much pride.

    maybe i just want them for myself. are there ‘my mom died of cancer and my sister is autistic and my dad is in iraq’ cards?

    @2: i am still young and still coming to terms with the fact that others have indeed had tragedies that at least felt similar to mine to them. granted, most everyone i know is young and they have experienced little so far.

  5. good for you two! Keep the morbid humor going, it helps. My best friend is dying of Leukemia and we all call him Dead Guy. He always says, when the jokes stop, he knows he’s screwed.

  6. You have no idea how seriously I was thinking about getting a “my mom’s stage IV cancer treatments are being disrupted by her schizophrenia/I just found my brothers this week from who I was separated from by adoption/the new semester is starting/I am a FT working, FT student single mother of two” card last week! I was just getting tired of trying to explain to anyone why I was having a hard time holding it together. A card would have done the job so nicely.
    @5, almost everyone you meet has suffered through personal tragedy by my age (40) but you are right, it can be even more isolating when you are young and surrounded by so much innocence. Whether it makes you bitter, or opens your heart and makes you more compassionate, that’s on you to decide.

  7. I think I will need a card that says
    “You’ll have to excuse me I am lost in
    time present thinking what I am gonna
    do for income when I lose my job as an
    IT in house employee.”

  8. All y’all:

    My dad died 17 years ago. In life, he was much loved by his children. We called him “Dad”, his 60s monicker “Daddy-o” or (his first name) “Jack”. After his death, we continued to refer to him likewise (as in, “Jeeze, I miss Jack so much.”)

    My sister was executor of his estate.

    After his death, when she was vexed with him over some estate detail that was tiresome, she called him “the dead guy.”

    After he died, I was expected to plunge back into every-day life. I really longed for Victorian death conventions — I wasn’t ready to be a hostess/life of the party/etc.

  9. Consarn it, where’s my Orphan Card?

    A few years ago I coulda used a whole deck, with the Post-Traumatic Caregiver Stress Supplement Pack. Frak.

    “I’m sorry I shredded those checks and mailed the trash…”

    “I’m sorry I sidewiped your car….”

    “I’m sorry I cooked and ate all the steak and eggs this morning…”

  10. One card can provoke another, though….

    My father worked for a GM subsidiary during the 1950s when one of the really hardboiled auto execs in that era had such low tolerance for people whining about problems, he handed out specially printed cards which read (I seem to recall that this is the exact wording):

    Your story has touched my heart.

    Never have I met anyone with more problems than you.

    Please accept this card as a token of my sincere sympathy.

    The auto exec didn’t say a word, just handed the card. Didn’t win him many friends, but did discourage people from complaining about anything when he was around.

  11. Oh, and a formal year of wearing black?

    YES, PLEASE, just so laundry’s easier and I spend absolutely no energy matching anything… then again, that would only mean moving to NYC.

  12. How about if we are just compassionate to each other, all the time. Without anyone having to die or get cancer, go to Iraq, or whatever.

    I mean, it’s kind of a stupid thing for a soldier to tell other people…

    but can’t we just try to treat each other nice all the time, even when they don’t deserve it?

  13. @ Charles Platt
    I love it! “I see your Excuse for Sympathy card and raise you a Get Your Ass Back to Work!”

  14. while I certainly believe that personal tragedy (or major life upheaval — relocation, marriage, childbirth, etc) means that you occasionally and inadvertently let some things slip through your stressed-out, preoccupied fingers.

    We must, however, not to use this as “My tragedy/upheaval trumps whatever your silly-ass problem is, so I have an excuse to be an utter asshat.”

    I sympathize with your burden…and hope that you soon are able to accept that shitty things happen and move on with your life.

    (and yes, I’ve survived a few things that I had to use as the reason why I couldn’t keep my shit together at that particular moment in time.)

  15. For some reason, the first thing I thought of was William Carlos Williams’s poem “This is just to say”.

    I have eaten
    the plums
    that were in
    the icebox

    and which
    you were probably
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

  16. A good friend told me I had to take advantage of their death, should it ever happen – which sadly it did.

    And damn, did I take advantage of it.

    I’ve had similar conversations with so many people and would hope anyone close to me would do the same upon my passing. It’s possibly the only mildly okay thing about death.

  17. One part of me is appalled that anyone would do something like this that might cause some widow or widower’s grief to be taken less seriously in the future.

    The other part says anyone going through the ordeal of losing a spouse or companion is entitled to all the black humor they want.

    So I guess I can see both sides.

  18. As someone who is currently extremely worried about becoming a widower myself, I found this post unbearably sad. I’m not going to be able to indulge my boingboing twitch again until it’s percolated away from the front page.

  19. Ayup, my recently departed sweetie sure loved playing her cancer cards. She learned about them from a cousin who used a cancer card to trump a midget card – the cousin, recovering from chemo, had been clubbing and waiting in a long line at the ladies’ room when a midget tried to cut right past everyone in line, playing the “I’m a midget with a tiny bladder” card. Like I said, midget card met cancer card and, um, actually fisticuffs ensued.

    So now my gal’s cancer cards have turned into my widower’s cards, which I really don’t play as much as I could. Yes, the house is a mess (after all, someone avoided a lot of housework with those cancer cards for quite a while), but now that it’s just me and the cats, nobody knows nor cares, so there’s nobody to apologize to and hand a card. For a while people were kindly offering to help me with the cleanup or just leaving me envelopes full of cash – perenially useful when fighting cancer in the USA has decimated your finances – but the housework really is therapeutic and, well, it’s my dharma, and I just spent all the money putting out the cd of music my gal wanted me to release.

    I guess something about my Peace Corps years makes it hard for me to say “I have fewer responsibilities because of my lousy luck.” Yes, I’m grieving and traumatized and lonely…but I also have a world of work to do and a huge list of things to be grateful for. So my widower cards are collecting dust. They could never get me laid anyway.

  20. I love these. They are brilliant and would like my own set. :) Morbid humor is the best way through these things. My husband and I have decided that we will dress him as a pirate if he comes back from the ‘Stan an amputee.

    #14, I couldn’t agree more. You just never know what somebody’s going through. We should treat each other well even if they aren’t playing their particular cards.

  21. Charles Platt, that’s a fantastic card. Doubt I would ever play it, but it would be nice to have one just in case.

  22. My 33 year old wife gets to use the brain cancer card (which means that people automatically give me the widower-to-be card.) Our favorite use for them is with people we don’t particularly care for. Dropping the brain cancer bomb stops unwanted social interactions in their tracks. The more blunt the better…

    “Hows it going?”

    “My wife has brain cancer.”

    (stunned silence followed by stammering)

    “Good to see you too. Don’t be a stranger!”

    But as funny as it can be for us to talk about the card, others simply do not know how to react to the mixture of tragedy and humor. Which is why we tread lightly with those we care for. No need to play anything with them. Their de facto care and concern is humbling.

    My favorite thing about the card, though, is where it puts me in the hierarchy of snatching wisdom/moral entitlement from the cruel jaws of life. You know, that fucking arrogance that certain alchoholics and ex drug addicts have. “Man, you don’t know unless you’ve been there. Let me tell you about life and how I know all about it now.” in that sense I figure I’m just below POWs that have been tortured and just above POWs that haven’t been tortured.

  23. This strikes me as something that might have actually seen widespread use a century ago.

    Or maybe I just have “the vapors”.

  24. cubie! it must be that one of your four liquid ‘humours’ have become unbalanced. now, let’s see…. is it your blood? phlegm? yellow bile? naw, must be the black bile! mmmmm, black bile.

  25. @23: “I guess something about my Peace Corps years makes it hard for me to say “I have fewer responsibilities because of my lousy luck.” Yes, I’m grieving and traumatized and lonely…but I also have a world of work to do and a huge list of things to be grateful for.”

    I like this and I feel the same way.

    And in general, I love this comment thread. Life sucks, and has awful, awful moments, but when people can laugh about it, get past it, etc, it makes it so much infinitely better. For some reason I guess I thought my family was pretty alone in joking so much about the shit we’ve been through. I like not being alone.

  26. Wait, you mean I could have gotten away with being an asshat for most of my life if I just “played” any one of my “cards”?

    I’m embarrassed when my personal traumas affect my ability to be a good friend or citizen in any way. Isn’t that how we’re supposed to be?

  27. I must admit I played the widow card a few times, but only in the first six months, when I was really ditsy. And I wore black every day, so it was easy for everyone to figure out why I was so scatterbrained.

    A few years later, the only time I bring it up is when someone calls me about a fund for widows and orphans. They aren’t at all sympathetic if you’re not going to donate.

  28. I read this a little differently. I see “fuck you and your expectations of how I should be, what I should be doing and what’s proper behavior. When you’re there, you can make your own decisions but not a second sooner. Until then, here’s a handy card to remind you to shut the hell up.”

  29. Mine was the “I almost died and I lost everything when my house burnt down” card. Mainly used for petty officials, a school principal, the soon-to-be ex-husband and bullies.

    “You think I’m afraid of my daughter’s permanent record? I ALMOST DIED!”
    “You think I’m afraid of being a single parent? GTFO! I almost died!”

    But mainly, it was, “Ease the fuck up on your ‘Get over it’ shit, right?”

    I salute Supah Dupah Fresh!

  30. I often display my “I don’t give a shit” card, but it has yet to meet with the desired effect.

    I must admit at first I thought this post was in bad taste (though very funny,) but after reading people’s comments, I understand.

  31. These immediately reminded me of two things:

    In the movie “Millions” the older of two sons plays the “Our Mum’s dead” card to get grownups to give him stuff.

    And of course the Batman “My Parents Are DEEEEAAD!!!” comic seen here:

    I actually never wondered if I could try to garner sympathy from people after my divorce, because I was just glad it was over with. And a divorce is nowhere as traumatic as a death.

    If my ex-wife dies, am I a widower? An ex-widower?

  32. Five years ago I became an orphan when both of my parents died just 30 days apart. In between, I had part of my foot amputated due to a diabetic infection. Then five months later, my wife died. Worst six months ever.

    I didn’t even need cards like these. People actually averted their eyes. I think they were afraid they’d be cursed if they accidentally looked into my eyes.

  33. @#39 Airship

    Not being a religious person, my eyes have been opened to what an open ended proposition life is. That is what makes it so beautiful and horrible at the same time. I guess our sense of security and entitlement is just as fabricated as our sense of limitations.

    Not that I’m preaching to you. I just hope things get better and you find some folks who will look you square in the eyes.

  34. My wife died a year ago by shooting herself in the head. My 4 children and I were in the next room. Her family was convinced that I murdered her.

    I prefer people not know what happened, usually, because if they do, they won’t talk to me like normal people do. Every time they tell part of their life story, and it includes some hardship or difficulty, they then qualify it with, “But it’s nothing compared to what you went through!” Then they feel embarrassed to talk about themselves anymore.

    I don’t like to talk about my life; my recent past is not pleasant. But I am an excellent listener and conversationalist. Things go better if my conversation partner doesn’t know about my wife’s method of dying. I leave out most of the details, and things go better.

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